When Interruption Finds You

2016 November 3
by Dr. Zachary White

Interruption finds us all, eventually—even though we spend much of our lives acting as if it won’t.  Even though life’s interruptions look and sound and feel different to each of us given our life circumstances, there are some commonalities that we ignore at our own peril.  Wherever we are and whatever we are enduring, . . .

  • Life interruptions are always a complete surprise. Suffering occurs when we experience something we didn’t think was supposed to happen. Not to us. Not now. Not in this way. Not to someone we love. Not when we least expect it.  Not when we can least afford it. Not after so much that has happened before. Not when we are looking forward to so much.  Not when we think we have it all figured out. Not when life was just beginning to make sense. Not when we were about to embark on something special.  Not after our cautiousness was supposed to be our protection.  Not when our fearlessness was supposed to be our source of courage.  Not to such a good person. Not to such a special person. Not to such an innocent person.  In a world of planning and anticipation, life’s interruptions never come to us when they are convenient—they always leave us feeling unprepared.
  • Life interruptions make us think—differently. Even if but for a moment, or an hour, or a lifetime, when interruptions find us we are forced to see ourselves in a way we rarely notice.  For a brief moment, our view isn’t simply about looking forward—head down focused on a goal that deludes us into believing that there is a straight and unwavering line between us and our destination.  Interruptions don’t abide by the laws of purpose that guide our everyday.  Instead, we find ourselves out of balance without a focal point, requiring us to devote almost all of our efforts to simply remaining upright.  We ask questions—why us, why now, now what—in an attempt to get back on path, but the more questions we ask, the less sure we are of where we are going.  Interruptions steal our past and present and future and rearrange them in ways that no longer make any sense, turning every step into a leap of faith into the abyss of the unknown.
  • Life interruptions are felt in our bodies. When life is interrupted—a death in the family, an accident, a diagnosis, a failure that we had not predicted—it eventually finds itself in our bodies.  It’s as if our bodies know something that we don’t.  Suffering goes beyond our ability to cognitively comprehend.  Heads hurt. Hearts ache.  Nerves twinge.  Stomachs churn.  Interruptions find those very parts of our bodies that are weakest and attack them—attack us—into submission and vulnerability and utter humility.  Our bodies won’t let us forget that interruption is upon us, conspiring against us in ways that transform the simplest of acts—getting out of bed or engaging in small talk with a work colleague—into herculean acts of courage that deplete our diminishing reserves of energy.
  •  Life interruptions ask us to be more serious and less tolerant. When our thoughts are filled with doubts and our bodies remind us that they are in charge, not us, we begin to drift.  The winds of interruption almost always move us away from others, not toward one another.  Simple interactions with good-hearted people remind us of the threats of being with others when we don’t have the tolerance to laugh off an innocent joke, or to laugh at ourselves, or to laugh at our situation.  Simple and off-handed comments can burn us as those that we know best can also become sources of angst.  In the midst of interruption, our ability to indulge in mere pleasure and joy become increasingly more difficult as the reasons to laugh seem more and more difficult to justify.
  •  Life interruptions invite Band-Aids, not understanding. When others know we are suffering, they caringly try to make it go away.  “Stop crying, please.”  “Let’s find a way to help you forget about what is going on.” “You need an escape.” “You need to let go.” “You’ve got to get over this.”  The desire to soften another’s suffering is always a social act of care, but it often leaves us feeling even more vulnerable. Well-intentioned clichés begin to fall through our hands like sand when we are gripped by life’s interruptions.  Be resilient. Life will get better. You will be stronger.  Life will move on.  We all experience disappointment eventually.  These are slogans from those who have emerged from the abyss of the valley of interruption, not of those in the valley.  Grand philosophies and easy solutions don’t stick well when we are in the middle of interruption.  They peel off painfully, reminding us of how useless they are and how much they hurt when someone approaches us with clichés full of solutions designed to cover our pain so as to protect others.

Unfortunately, there isn’t much tolerance for what happens to us when everything we once believed or knew becomes messy, inconsistent, unusual, and “not like us.”  A life interruption is another way of saying we’re under construction.  But this kind of construction isn’t clearly visible with orange signs and reflective vests cautioning others to slow down in awareness that transformation is happening.  Whether we acknowledge it or not, interruption doesn’t wait for us to be ready nor does it allow us to anticipate when it comes to us.

Slow down.  Don’t drive by, please.  Be aware.  We’re all under construction, never at the same time though.  If not now, soon enough.  Our interruptions may be different, but what they ask of us can be the source of our connection, reminding us that we’re not alone, and we don’t need to be.

3 Responses leave one →
  1. Jeni permalink
    November 3, 2016

    this is so poignant. thank you.

  2. November 3, 2016

    Dr. White,

    Thank you for this insightful post about interruptions, which contains excellent advice even if we are interrupted by something other than our own suffering, such as a friend or a student.

    And this passage really struck me: ” A life interruption is another way of saying we’re under construction. But this kind of construction isn’t clearly visible with orange signs and reflective vests cautioning others to slow down in awareness that transformation is happening. Whether we acknowledge it or not, interruption doesn’t wait for us to be ready nor does it allow us to anticipate when it comes to us.”

  3. November 4, 2016

    Thank you, Norris. Much appreciated!

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